Tuesday, March 25, 2014

...Like A Gentile Or Tax Collector (part 7)

Here also is an opportunity for Jesus to prove His previously made point, which was that if Tyre and Sidon were able to see the miracles that had been seen by the denizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, that they would respond in an appropriate manner.  However, given this opportunity, it is to be noted that Jesus says that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Undeterred by Jesus’ seeming aversion to Gentile outreach, this woman that had made her initial messianic proclamation, and who had followed and continued to cry out after Jesus, bows down before Jesus and says simply, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25b)  Surely now one would expect Jesus to respond in the way to which His observers have grown accustomed.  He again disappoints expectations by saying “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (15:26).  Undaunted, the desperate woman offers her reply, saying “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (15:27). 

Putting aside the apparently problematic use of “dogs,” which has not yet been on offer from Jesus in His previous dealings with Gentiles, and so apparently is meant to play a rhetorical role in a conversation that has taken the appearance of a rabbinic debate (thereby, in point of fact, elevating this woman---is this encounter taking place at a meal, amplifying Jesus’ point and removing the possibility of insult from His comment?), rather than being used as a demeaning and blanket statement (considering the possibility that Jesus already has in mind what He is going to do for this woman and how He is ultimately going to respond to her), she has taken up the words of Jesus, accepted His statement without challenge, and then added “master” to the fact of her already referring to Him as “Lord” and “Son of David.”  Finally, this is productive of what would be expected from Jesus from the beginning, as He answers her with “Woman, your faith is great!  Let what you want be done for you” (15:28a).  The closing report is that “her daughter was healed from that hour” (15:28b). 

When stepping back from this for a moment and viewing the exchange as a whole, one can find tremendous similarities between the encounter between Jesus and the centurion in Capernaum, and between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon.  While viewing the similarities, one must also consider Jesus’ statement about Tyre and Sidon and their potential response to the miracles that He performed.  As indicated, Matthew neatly introduces this story into the narrative of Jesus that he is telling, and both ends---Jesus’ statement about Tyre and Sidon juxtaposed against the “woes” He pronounced and what takes place here in Tyre and Sidon with this woman---are heavily suggestive when it comes to considering the prescribed treatment of an erring member of the new covenant community as a Gentile or tax collector. 

In the previous story, the centurion comes to Jesus with a request.  The Canaanite woman does likewise.  Jesus responds positively to the centurion, but does not respond to the Canaanite woman (perhaps the Roman commander, as part of the Gentile, tax collecting, oppressive force, would be looked upon as a greater enemy by the majority of Jesus’ and Matthew’s audience, therefore Jesus offers greater compassion and praise to Him, whereas the Canaanite woman would merely be considered a nuisance?).  Upon Jesus’ response, the centurion, even though his request has been granted, says “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”  The audience then goes on to find out the reasoning behind these words, as well as the way that He perceives Jesus’ power and authority, as he says “For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I say to this one, ‘Go,” and he goes, and to another “Come’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (8:9)  

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